Back to basic-skills support

27th August 2004 at 01:00
A pilot project that recruits volunteers to support basic skills teaching in the Staffordshire potteries has proved a success.

Link Up is a national initiative set up three years ago to support adult basic-skills teaching in some of the most disadvantaged communities in England, as well as in two prisons and in the army.

The scheme was allocated pound;3 million by the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit and the Home Office and has been run by a consortium of public and private bodies, including the Basic Skills Agency, the BBC and Tesco.

It developed a training programme leading to a Level 2 adult learner support qualification. It encourages volunteers to progress to further qualifications and is proving to be a valuable pool of potential basic skills staff.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the Link Up project is being run by a regeneration charity called Groundwork in areas with high unemployment and deprivation.

In Stoke the skills needs of employers have changed dramatically in recent years as potteries and mining have given way to new industries such as call centres, which need staff with good literacy and numeracy.

In two years, the project has trained 448 people in adult basicskills support. Many volunteers have gone on to become support assistants and some have taken Level 4 teacher qualifications. The figures also include around 100 Jobcentre Plus frontline staff.

Willie Sarson started as a Link Up volunteer. He had retrained by taking evening classes in IT after he was made redundant from a builder's yard at the age of 43.

He was subsequently trained to assist tutors with basic numeracy classes.

As project co-ordinator for Link Up he has been responsible for recruiting and training volunteers to help teach basic skills throughout Stoke-on-Trent.

"It has been a major success," he said. "Quite a number of our volunteers are already on Level 4, so we have brought people into the loop who would never otherwise do it.

"We have retired accountants, we have engineers, we have people who were immigrants to this country who, because of their training, life skills and background, have taken to this like a duck to water.

"The difference it has made around here has been astronomical. In Stoke the pottery industry is in massive decline, but some companies have our volunteers under the auspices of a tutor, delivering basic skills at lunchtimes and after work."

The Link Up pilot projects officially came to an end in July when the funding ran out. But the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit says the aim is to avoid the fate of other initiatives, where millions of pounds have been used to pump-prime a project only to see it then fizzle and die.

The strategy unit's deputy director Barry Brooks predicts that Link Up's volunteer recruitment and training model will become sustainable.

"The way to sustain things is not to keep providing discreet funding for projects," he said. "You sustain them by making them part of the mainstream."

There is now an agreement between Groundworkand local further education colleges to continue recruiting and training volunteers for the adult basic skills sector.

Staffordshire Learning and Skills Council's head of funding, Anthony Bamsey, said: "They have had a lot of success. We have disseminated that, we are building on it, and then we expect to see this work cascade across our area."

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